Why giving categories don’t work with legacies

Years ago I was asked to review and critique an organization’s legacy marketing materials. It was quite good:

Years ago I was asked to review and critique an organization’s legacy marketing materials. It was quite good: nice layout, compelling copy and poignant donor testimonials. Until I saw that it included giving categories.


Let’s make something clear, I believe giving categories are a fabulous way to help donors understand what can be made possible with their gifts. For instance, years ago when I worked for a school for deaf children, I developed gift categories so donors could visualize how a $50 gift could concretely help a child. It was a very powerful tool that turned things around for donors and the organization.

So why am I against gift categories for legacies?

  1. It’s about the big picture. The donor is entrusting her gift to your organization to realize something bigger than herself such as finding a cure for epilepsy, providing fresh water to a whole community or stopping climate change. That is what legacy means – to leave something behind for future generations. It should be inspirational and not be broken down into tiny morsels – leave that for your regular or monthly giving categories.
  2. Your legacy vision should be bigger than life. The previously mentioned examples are not goals that will be realized in the short-term. Usually they are complex and long-term that require a large infusion of funds. Providing a giving category for say climate change is both unrealistic and irresponsible.
  3. You’re setting yourself up for smaller legacy gifts. The majority of legacy gifts are residual bequests (a percentage after all specific gifts and debts are paid off on the estate). The percentage can vary but usually is means a bigger gift to the charity than if it’s a specific bequest. If your strategy is to ask for a specific bequest from your donors using giving categories, you are forgoing the potential of a residual gift. Take for instance a donor decides to bequeath your organization a gift of 5% of his estate. It may appear to be a small gift but on a $500,000 estate, that’s a $25,000 donation. If you would have used giving categories and your biggest category were $5,000, you would have missed out on a $20,000 gift to your charity.

If you are using gift categories, please please stop it. STOP IT RIGHT NOW!

Your turn now, what has been your experience with gift categories with legacies. Do you use them? Have they worked for you? Will you continue to use them?

As always, send me your questions and I will answer them on a Thursday post.


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